Traditional and Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules & Penalties

By Sheryl Nance-Nash · August 29, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Traditional and Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules & Penalties

The purpose of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) is to allow you to save for your golden years, so there are strict IRA withdrawal rules meant to make it harder to access that money for other reasons.

Ideally you sock away money consistently and your investment grows over time. You also get the benefit of tax breaks. But it’s important to keep the IRA rules for withdrawals in mind to make the most of your accounts.

Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules

When can you withdraw from a Roth IRA? The rules for IRA withdrawals are different for Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs. For instance, you’ll never owe income taxes on money you contribute to a Roth IRA, since it goes into the retirement account after taxes. However, there are still some Roth IRA withdrawal rules to keep in mind when it comes to the account’s growth.

The Five-year Rule

If you have a Roth IRA, you may face a Roth IRA withdrawal penalty if you withdraw funds you deposited less than five years ago. This is known as the “five-year rule“. These Roth IRA withdrawal rules also apply to the funds in a Roth rolled over from a traditional IRA. In those cases, if you make a withdrawal from a Roth IRA account that you’ve owned for less than five years, you’ll owe a 10% tax penalty on the account’s gains.

For inherited Roth IRAs, the five-year rule applies to the age of the account, so if your benefactor opened the account more than five years ago, you can access the funds penalty-free. If you tap into the money before that, you’ll owe taxes on the gains.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) on Inherited Roth IRAs

If you’re wondering about Roth IRA distribution rules, in most cases, you do not have to pay required minimum distributions on money in a Roth IRA account. However, for inherited Roths, IRA withdrawal rules mandate that you take required minimum distributions.

There are two ways to do that without penalty:

•   Withdraw funds by December 31 of the fifth year after the original holder died. You can do this in either partial distributions or a lump sum. If the account is not emptied by that date, you could owe a 50% penalty on whatever is left.

•   Take withdrawals each year, based on your life expectancy.

💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that you must choose the investments in your IRA? Once you open a new IRA and start saving, you get to decide which mutual funds, ETFs, or other investments you want — it’s totally up to you.

Traditional IRA Withdrawal Rules

If you take funds out of a traditional IRA before you turn 59 ½, you’ll owe regular income taxes on the contributions and the gains, per IRA tax deduction rules, plus a 10% penalty.

RMDs on a Traditional IRA

The rules for withdrawing from an IRA mean that required minimum distributions kick in the year you turn 73. After that, you have to take distributions each year, based on your life expectancy. If you don’t take the RMD, you’ll owe a 50% penalty on the amount that you did not withdraw.

When Can You Withdraw from an IRA Without Penalties?

You can make withdrawals from an IRA once you reach age 59 ½ without penalties.

In addition, there are other situations in which you may be able to make withdrawals without having to pay a penalty. These include having medical expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance (as long as you meet certain qualifications), having a permanent disability that means you can no longer work, and paying for qualified education expenses for a child, spouse, or yourself.

Read more about these and other penalty-free exceptions below.

9 Exceptions to the 10% Early-Withdrawal Penalty on IRAs

Whether you’re withdrawing from a Roth within the first five years or you want to take money out of a traditional IRA before you turn 59 ½, there are some instances where you don’t have to pay the 10% penalty on your IRA withdrawals.

1. Medical Expenses

You can avoid the early withdrawal penalty if you use the funds to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses that total more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

2. Health Insurance

If you’re unemployed for at least 12 weeks, IRA withdrawal rules allow you to use funds from an IRA penalty-free to pay health insurance premiums for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents.

3. Disability

If you’re permanently disabled and can no longer work, you can withdraw IRA funds without penalty. In this case, your plan administrator may require you to provide proof of the disability before signing off on a penalty-free withdrawal.

4. Higher Education

IRA withdrawal rules allow you to use IRA funds to pay for qualified education expenses, such as tuition and books for yourself, your spouse, or your child without penalty.

5. Inherited IRAs

IRA withdrawal rules state that you don’t have to pay the 10% penalty on withdrawals from an IRA, unless you’re the sole beneficiary of a spouse’s account and roll it into your own, non-inherited IRA. In that case, the IRS treats the IRA as if it were yours from the start, meaning that early withdrawal penalties apply.

Recommended: Inherited IRA Distribution Rules Explained

6. IRS Levy

If you owe taxes to the IRS, the agency may take it directly out of your IRA account. In that case, the IRS will not assess the 10% penalty. If you take the money out of the account yourself, however, to pay taxes, you’d also have to pay the 10% penalty.

7. Active Duty

If you’re a qualified reservist, you can take distributions without owing the 10% penalty. This goes for a military reservist or National Guard member called to active duty for at least 180 days after September 11, 2001.

8. Buying a House

While you can’t take out IRA loans, you can use up to $10,000 from your traditional IRA toward the purchase of your first home — and if you’re purchasing with a spouse, that goes for each of you. The IRS defines first-time homebuyers as someone who hasn’t owned a principal residence in the last two years. You can also withdraw money to help with a first home purchase for a child or your spouse’s child, grandchild, or parent.

In order to qualify for the penalty-free withdrawals, you’ll need to use the money within 120 days of the distribution.

9. Substantially Equal Periodic Payments

Another way to avoid penalties under IRA withdrawal rules, is by starting a series of distributions from your IRA, spread equally over your life expectancy. To make this work, you must take at least one distribution each year and you can’t alter the distribution schedule until five years have passed or you’ve reached age 59 ½, whichever is later.

The amount of the distributions must use an IRS-approved calculation that involves your life expectancy, your account balance, and interest rates.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening an investment account, know your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. These fundamentals will help keep your strategy on track and with the aim of meeting your goals.

Is Early IRA Withdrawal Worth It?

While there may be cases where it makes sense to take an early withdrawal, most advisors agree that it should be a last resort. These are disadvantages and advantages to consider.

Pros of IRA Early Withdrawal

•   If you have a major expense and there are no other options, taking an early withdrawal from an IRA could help you cover the cost.

•   An early withdrawal may help you avoid taking out a loan you would then have to repay with interest.

Cons of IRA Early Withdrawal

•   By taking money out of an IRA account early, you’re robbing your own nest egg not only of the current value of the money but also future years of compound growth.

•   Money taken out of a retirement account now can have a big impact on your financial security in the future when you retire.

•   You may owe taxes and penalties, depending on the specific situation.

Opening an IRA With SoFi

Like 401(k)s, IRAs are powerful, tax-advantaged accounts you can use to save for retirement. However, it is possible to take money out of an IRA if you need it before retirement age. Just remember, even if you’re able to do so without an immediate tax penalty, the withdrawals could leave you with less money for retirement later.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.


Can you withdraw money from a Roth IRA without penalty?

You can withdraw your own contributions to a Roth IRA without penalty no matter what your age. However, you cannot withdraw the earnings on your contributions before age 59 ½, or before the account has been open for at least five years, without incurring a penalty.

What are the rules for withdrawing from a Roth IRA?

You can withdraw your own contributions to a Roth IRA at any time penalty-free. But to avoid taxes and penalties on your earnings, withdrawals from a Roth IRA must be taken after age 59 ½ and once the account has been open for at least five years.

However, there are a number of exceptions in which you typically don’t have to pay a penalty for an early withdrawal, including: some medical expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance, being permanently disabled and unable to work, or if you’re on qualified active military duty.

What are the 5 year rules for Roth IRA withdrawal?

Under the 5-year rule, if you make a withdrawal from a Roth IRA that’s been open for less than five years, you’ll owe a 10% penalty on the account’s earnings. If your Roth IRA was inherited, the 5-year rule applies to the age of the account. So if you inherited the Roth IRA from a parent, for instance, and they opened the account more than five years ago, you can withdraw the funds penalty-free. If the account has been opened for less than five years, however, you’ll owe taxes on the gains.

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